Thursday October 08, 2015

PMO halted processing of Syrian refugees, report reveals

A Globe and Mail report has revealed that the PMO ordered Canadian officials to stop processing Syrian refugee applications.

A Globe and Mail report has revealed that the PMO ordered Canadian officials to stop processing Syrian refugee applications. (Left: Adrian Wyld/Reuters Pool, Right: Dimitris Michalakis/Reuters)

Listen 6:00

A Globe and Mail investigation has revealed that the Prime Minister's Office halted the processing of Syrian refugee applications.

"My colleagues and I were left speechless," Chris Friesen, chair of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance, tells As it Happens host Carol Off. "We were left scratching our heads as to why the PMO would be involved."

The report, published today, says that the PMO directed Canadian immigration officials to stop processing government-assisted Syrian refugees until they were approved by the prime minister. This effectively halted the approval of some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugee applications. 

"We're already seeing undue delays in processing of government-assisted refugees and privately sponsored refugees. Delays like this can be devastating." 

"It is highly unusual … We have such a robust security apparatus in this country. So, why the PMO would suddenly get involved in the selection of government-assisted refugees is highly unusual."

Friesen explains that refugee selection is typically managed by the department of Citizenship and Immigration and the Canadian Border Services Agency. Refugee applicants are screened and referred to Canada by the UNHRC.

"We're already seeing undue delays in processing of government-assisted refugees and privately sponsored refugees. Delays like this can be devastating." 

Friesen says more questions need to be answered about this investigation because it's a "life or death situation." 

"The question it raises for us is, 'why is the government now questioning the UN system?'" says Friesen.

The investigation also revealed that the federal government hired the Danish Refugee Council to screen applicants.

"I think this is a first in Canadian history… I don't recall a Canadian government actually contracting with a European NGO to undertake work that is normally provided by the UN refugee agency," says Friesen.

A statement from the department of Citizenship and Immigration says that the halt in processing was put in place to screen out possible security threats.

Also, earlier today, Stephen Harper said no political staff were involved in vetting the files.